This is my dear Mama and Sister, Hollis, and she suffers from PTSD and various other Invisible Wounds of Service. This is a struggle we share—her in her fight to heal, and me in my fight to keep her from becoming a statistic.
Hollis and I enlisted, trained, and served together for a while. She deployed 4 times—3 times with Security Forces (as a cop), and once with AES (as a flight medic). 2 tours to Iraq, 2 tours to Afghanistan. She’s never been one to shirk away from any duty—always the first to volunteer for anything and everything. But, like many, she was fighting a battle with herself, fighting her own demons.
Circumstances beyond her control led to choices and actions to try and alleviate the pain, and erase the horrible memories. She tried self-harm by cutting, but feared getting a disease in the desert. From cutting she moved on to non-active Bulimia as her coping mechanism. But it didn’t help drive out the hurt.
Even returning home between deployments didn’t ease the suffering, and the thoughts of self-harm. She felt weak—like she had somehow betrayed her warrior ethos. Warriors, soldiers, they aren’t supposed to feel moments of weakness, right??
She managed to hide most of her illness from me for years, but I knew. What sister (or spouse, or family member, or best friend, etc.) wouldn’t recognize the changes? But no matter how many questions I asked, or how much I pressed the issues, she would just push me away. Isolate herself, and me, even more.
We were both lost.
Finally, in 2013, while on her AES deployment, I got a frantic phone call from her. “Mama, I need help”. Her story finally spilled out through the phone, then through Skype. A painful story for her to tell, and for me to hear. But it felt good to finally hear the truth. We knew we could work on the "what's next", from there.
She knew the path the military would take once it came to light what was going on—she would have to give up her many years of stellar service…her uniform…her way of life…and the only thing she wanted to do, serve. But she had realized that her life was so much more valuable than all that. She finally wanted to live. So, together, we got the ball rolling on what would prove to be one of the most difficult journeys of her life.
It’s been 2 years full of ups and downs—from trouble with certain policies, to the many troubles with the VA. Everyone has heard the stories, and read the news articles—but, together, we’re living them! And they’re all true, and then some! I can’t even begin to tell of all the horrible instances, and the awful stories that she’s called near hysterical about. It’s enough to make anyone’s blood boil. And it isn't getting any better!
It wasn’t until last year, though, that I finally heard the fight come back in her voice. “Mama, we HAVE to do something about this. This struggle and fight is for a reason”.
If there is one thing that has always sparked life in Hollis, it’s art. So, through various ideas and brainstorming sessions, we came up with the 22 Portrait Project. It started as a way to show the many Veterans who are struggling with Invisible Wounds that they are NOT alone. That there are people out here willing to fight with them, and for them. That they ARE MORE than a statistic. It’s a project to show the Families and Friends fighting for their loved one, that they, too, are not alone. Family is such an integral part of this fight, but we are so often forgotten. We, too, struggle with their PTSD.
But, from there this project has grown to so much more. It is now a drive and a desire to tell a story…HER story, from start to finish. And in doing so, giving others the courage they may need to tell their story, too. The courage they may need to understand that admitting they are struggling isn’t an admission of weakness…but the most courageous thing they could do for themselves.
One goal with this Project is to have enough photographs, stories, and support to compile a book, as well as a travelling gallery show. Crazy, yes. But what is a dream if it isn’t crazy??
But, even more than that, a GoFund Me was created to raise money, so that Hollis can get her amazing story out there. For her to be able to travel to the people who want her to tell it. Because I believe that she is the voice that can finally bring these terrible stories out of the shadows, and give hope to others.
One thing I’ve told her from the beginning is that I will do ANYTHING to help her. To see and hear her speak about this project (and journey), the light comes back into her eyes, and the determination I’ve come to know and love from her, returns. For a little while, she’s the old Hollis. I would do anything to bring that back permanently.
She’s still working on her healing, but she’s come so far in the last 2 years. We both have. Because this struggle is NOT fought alone.
If you would like to donate or share with others, this is the link to the campaign:
**Shortly after I wrote this, Hollis voluntarily entered an in-patient facility for the next month. I miss her terribly, and hate that I can't talk to her...but I know that she's doing what needs to be done to heal and recover.**
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